Teacher Tech blog with Alice Keeler

Paperless Is Not a Pedagogy

Alice Keeler

Before Giving to Students… Critically Analyze

analyze the quality of the learning
Before Giving to Students… Critically Analyze

analyze the quality of the learning

What is the Quality of Learning?

One thing I am so grateful for is learning about DOK (Depth of Knowledge.) I did not learn this in my teacher credential program and thus never gave much thought to the depth of learning my students are engaged in. I didn’t question the types of math problems in the textbook or on the worksheets. While many math problems are hard, they are not complex. Following steps to find an answer is DOK 1 (out of 4 levels.) Almost my entire math book (and worksheet packets the district provided) was DOK 1 and a little DOK 2. My students deserve better than this.

It is not our job to give students something to do, but rather to give them quality learning activities. We can not blindly assign the next section of the book or grab the next worksheet out of the curriculum box and call it good. It is our job to critically evaluate the resources we have before we give them to students. What is the quality of the learning?

We absolutely should analyze the quality of the worksheets that students are asked to complete. This worksheet is a complete waste of student time. The quality of the learning in this activity is so low almost anything else would be better, including doing nothing. This worksheet was not a genuine effort by a teacher to try to create an activity, it was photocopied out of resource book.

Let’s care more about student learning than our feelings about a worksheet.

This is NOT a blog post about place value. The point of this is not to come up with alternatives for how to teach place value because that would assume the issue is THIS one bad worksheet. Rather the point is to critically analyze EVERY worksheet. Is this worth my student’s time? How MUCH learning comes out of it? Is it engaging? Does it make learning sticky? Is it busywork? Is there a better more effective way to get the independent practice?

Context Not Clipart

As a math teacher, I can not count how many times I heard a student say “when will I ever use this?” I don’t blame them. I asked my students to blindly memorize a formula and set of procedures but failed to give them a context they could relate to. To make learning sticky we need to make it relevant to students.

This place value worksheet has a fake context. License plates are NOT an example of place value. In order to “fun up” the worksheet some random context and clip art was added. Thoughtless. Before we assign to students, ask if it has a meaningful context? If not, create one or find something else to assign.

Use Real Data

As often as possible try to include real data and real examples over contrived examples. When I was a student it made sense for my teachers to use contrived examples since obtaining real data was not easy. Today it is easy to look up information. Amazon is full of real data that can be utilized in many types of examples. Use research.google.com/tables to conduct a Google Search for websites that contain data.

In this House Hunters place value activity students look up houses on realtor.com and record the price and square footage.

If we can not answer the question “when would I ever use this?” then we need to exhaust our networks to find the answer to this.

Critical Thinking

We must be careful not to do the thinking for the students. In the place value worksheet the place values were written in. The student did not need to recall what the learning objective was. Spacing out numbers on a line required very little brain effort. Before assigning to students, evaluate the amount of critical thinking the student will be doing.

One way to encourage thinking is to make sure the problems are not practically identical. If a student can figure out a pattern and whip through the rest of the worksheet without really thinking about the problems, that is a problem. Dr. Jo Boaler from Stanford recommends in her book Mathematical Mindsets to give problems that are low floor high ceiling. This means they are more open ended to allow for any student to work on it at an entry level or to take it farther. I have an example at alicekeeler.com/eatabrownie


The #1 export of America is creativity. It is important that we cultivate this daily in our schools. Creativity is not coloring a worksheet. When we talk about the 4 C’s it refers to creative thinking. If every student submits the same thing, it is not creative thinking and probably not critical thinking. What decision does the student get to make?

Think about a number talk where we ask students to come up with different ways of representing a number. How can you represent the number 12? There are some really creative ways to do this. Value students sharing different and creative approaches to understanding a concept.

Can a robot grade it? It’s not creative. However, if robots can grade it… they should. At a minimum put the worksheet into something that is self grading. For fun, I created this Quizizz on place value. Gamification works, at least have some student engagement by making it a game. “If it’s lame, make it a game.”


Social Learning Theory by Dr. Bandura recognizes that we learn from those around us. The problem with all students doing a worksheet of identical questions is that it is easy to claim cheating if students are working together. However, we want them to work together! Design for collaboration. According to John Hattie’s research, cooperative learning is in the top 7 for effects on student achievement. Collaboration does not happen on accident, we design that into our lesson plans.
Cooperative Learning

Clearly Communicating Ideas

Students should be showing their thinking. What is their strategy? What worked and did not work. What did they try instead? What connections are they making? An easy way to do this is to use Google Slides for the problems and have students add a text box to explain their thinking. Flipgrid is an excellent way for students to communicate their ideas.


Giving up is clearly not good for learning. If you are not successful you should do it again! When using a digital tool for DOK 1 problems, the student can get their score immediately and then retake it! We should expect that our students keep doing it until they are successful not until they are at the bottom of the page. Without digital tools, it is challenging to allow students to retake. Personally, I barely have the desire to grade it once let alone multiple times. Use a tool like Quizizz, Socrative, Formative, Edulastic, Quizlet, That Quiz, FlippityQuia, or many many others! I used Quia because it allowed me to create a question bank. Instead of all students doing 30 problems whether or not they needed them, they had to do 3 right in a row. Get it wrong… hit restart.
Ramsey Musallam redo

Even if students do the exact same problems in the exact same order they still learn more from restarting than from getting a low score and moving on. However, when using a digital tool the questions can be scrambled and the A B C can be scrambled.

Tip: if you are using Google Forms. Create a section for student information such as their name and period. Create a separate section for the questions. Then click on the settings cog in the upper right and choose “Presentation” and click on “Shuffle question order.”
Shuffle Question Order


More effective than a bunch of repetitive problems is spiraling. Build in coming back to ideas throughout the school year rather than doing all the practice in one shot.

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